Ladies’ Club, 1974: Please allow us to introduce ourselves . . .
By: Suzanne Hudson
I have never had such a wonderful, life-loving, belly-laughing time writing a novel. But then, my other two novels are dark, twisted, violent tales of the brutal South, certainly not for the faint of heart. Maybe I needed to de-compress, lighten up, do something to capture the fun absurdity of the region. Or maybe, just maybe, after years of folks asking me to please expand my short story, “The Fall of the Nixon Administration,” into a novel, the time was right. Truth be told, I’ve been picking at it for well over a decade, but when I experienced my own few absurd years just a little while back, the core of ridiculousness was fully baked, I had seen the crazy up close, and I was ready for the purge.
In the short story there is one first-person narrator, Cecelia. In the novel there are four first-person narrators: Maureen, a fifty-ish wealthy widow woman who has, to the chagrin and humiliation of her daughter, taken up with a Vietnam vet/gigolo from the “wrong side of the creek” and half her age; Cecelia, said daughter, a bossy, narcissistic, prissy, self-righteous, fake Christian, obliviously wed to a closeted gay man and devoid of lust, until the arrival of said gigolo; Marlayna, said gigolo’s ex girlfriend, a “rough around the edges,” obsessive stalker and holy roller ho, who joins forces with another vet friend of the gigolo in order to carry out reconnaissance missions with the goal of getting her man back; and Lindia, the widow’s housekeeper, a devout widow herself, who finds herself in an unlikely allegiance with the crude-talking, ever charming, trouble-making, pot-stirring gigolo, Will Luckie, who brings the long-grieving Lindia out of her shell and into the waiting arms of a patient, devoted suitor.
So I guess you could say it’s a love story. Set in the Watergate era, set on August 9, 1974, to be exact, the day after Nixon’s televised resignation speech. Yes, it’s an unimpeachable love story set on the heels of an impeachment. Pretty relevant, isn’t it? Look closely and you’ll see some pretty glaring similarities to 2019. Ain’t it fun?
But allow me to introduce these ladies, give you a little glimpse at who they are, their points of view, their values. Of course they are flawed, as we all are. One of them is downright vicious--but a story often needs a villainess, right? Most of the characters are good at heart, just doing the best they can, from day to day, as we all do. Take a look. See if you might like to see the bigger picture and order the book from amazon.
Here we go:
CECELIA LARUE CALHOUN DOZIER
In light of my current situation with the law, I suppose it’s a good thing I did not shoot Will Luckie in the back of the head when I had the chance. And anything else that happened was strictly a crime of passion, as you will see with crystal clarity, once you have all the facts. The only thing that even came close to resembling premeditation was my momentary lapse, a fleeting intention to blow Will Luckie’s brains out, and I obviously did not do that. Just imagine how I would have been looked down upon if I had ironically done this world a favor, become a murderess, and purged that freeloading miscreant from our midst. After all, if folks are going to get all tore up over the demise of a few pulletts, then there surely would have been a mighty hew and cry over Will’s departure from this life—even though he is no better than any of the yard fowl I exploded with my DD’s---that’s the family abbreviation for “Dead Daddy’s”---Remington Model 1100 12 gauge automatic. And I refuse to say otherwise, even if they put hot lights in my face, withhold food and water, interrogate me for days on end, or attempt to beat any endearing words out of me. Will Luckie has single-handedly brought down the Calhouns and I will never forgive him. He has burrowed his way into my decrepit old MiMi’s—that’s Mother, by the way--he has burrowed like a boll weevil, like a barn rat, into her heart. And he has augmented that crazy part of her brittle-arteried brain to the extent that she has allowed him to populate the back lawn with egg-laying fowl, one straw among the many he has lain across my symbolically bent and battered back.
You know, that rat turncoat John Dean claimed he warned one R.M. Nixon that there was a “cancer growing on the presidency.” And the lying politicians on the Sunday news shows are saying that Dean will be remembered as one of the good ones, a patriot, who tried to sound the call, take a Paul Revere-style gallop through the hallowed halls of the house on Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s the kind of glowing praise a rat gets from the three TV networks these days.
So be it. To borrow from the rat, I say there is a cancer upon this family in the form of a homunculus with a rat-crawling member down below that poses as his brain. And even as I shout my most heartfelt, honest, and righteous warnings, I am met with denial, disbelief, and even ridicule. But I know, deep in my Christian soul, that ultimately I shall be vindicated as the teller of truth, the fighter for right, and the savior of the Calhoun name, as I excise this wretched, classless cancer from the body of my blue bloodlines.
I have often wondered over the years if Cecelia LaRue Calhoun were not fathered by some stranger who drugged me unconscious then had his way with my pliant flesh—flesh that momentarily encased a rare, ripened ovary, as CeCe was the product of my only pregnancy. This stranger could have been anyone--a rapaciously randy Fuller Brush salesman, for example, or an errant milkman who harbored milky lust among the clattering bottles. Perhaps a love struck elevator man had me between floors or carried me down to the underground world abandoned by the Phantom of the Opera. Maybe it was the Maytag repairman, who hypnotized me with the rhythm of the wash cycle before he gave me a spin, spilling his seed into my delicates.
I am a poet. CeCe is a priss-pot. The Poet and the Priss-Pot. It sounds like the title of something, and I do appreciate the alliterative nature of our roles in this life, the complementary angles we share, biologically, but God help us if we try to understand one another. That child is living the life I have finally, with an uncharacteristic clarity of mind, decided to wrest free of. I am speaking, of course, of the muted gray, small town decadence of rural redundance, banal chitchat, and social ass kissing. The lame land of the lumpen proletariat. After decades of carrying an unconventional core of creative ecstasy in my bosom, muzzled and harnessed by the life I chose at the weakest of moments, I am finally freeing my pent up spirit to taste all the pleasures of the flesh in my waning years. And it was Will Luckie who tapped into that gusher of a wellspring.
I was brought up to love the Lord, love God and country, and take no shit off of nobody. I don’t suffer no fools and the long hairs can kiss my lily white ass, putting the American flag on the butts of their jeans, smoking their wacky weed, and spitting on our military men. I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee, if you get my drift.
Jesus. God. Country. Take no shit. That’s how my mama lived her life and that’s how I planned to live mine, and then all this stuff started happening on account of Will Luckie coming back from Vietnam and all. I never would have thought it would get me all wadded up with a bunch of rich folks in Pollard, but it looks like that’s just what it done, and I still ain’t real sure what to make of it all. And on top of, things I was so sure of for all my life—like the Lord’s will, my true love, and even the long hairs—have all of a damn sudden reared up and bit me in the behind. Like GooGoo says, it’s “fuckin’ with my shit.” Literally. I’ll tell you about GooGoo in a minute.
My daddy was a county laborer who cut the grass on the side of the highway, drank too much, and tried to mess around with other women from time to time. My mama used to say, “You think cause you’re a grass cutter you can cut all the stuff you want, but I’ll be done cut you.” She talked like that a lot, in spite of being a church lady, but she loved my daddy’s sorry self for some reason. So she would carry me and my four little sisters to whatever bar he was at and kick whoever’s ass was in the way. Then she would use a knife or an umbrella or a big old rock or whatever to get Daddy in the car while me and Sara Jane and Melinda and the twins, Janay and Renee, would hunch together in the back seat, giggling. Wasn’t nothing scary about it. Mama won every time. Hell, girls would scatter like hens before a neck-wringing when Mama drove up to the parking lot of any bar, so I reckon I come by my mean streak honest.
Mr. Will keeps on telling me I need me some loving. That’s just how he talks to everybody. Thinks loving is the answer to all the ills of the world. And I reckon he’s right, only it’s been so long since I studied about it---a man’s loving, I mean. It’s been so long because I ain’t missed it too bad until here lately.
See, I already had what precious few women get. I had the love of, not just a man, but a good man. A man of God. Can’t nobody give a woman the kind of loving a preacher man can, and can’t nobody take my man’s place. That’s why I ain’t studying getting me no man now. What I’m going to do with a man? Old as I am? Shoot. But I can do one thing. I can tell when a man’s done caught the scent. I can tell when can’t nobody else. Once you had a preacher man you can see them kinds of things in folks.
I met Pastor Henry Johnson, Jr., back in 1942, when I was seventeen and he was thirty-three. I was visiting my cousin Eula near Warm Springs, and she took me to her church. The Mount of Olives Free Will Baptist Church. Child, it was packed like sardines full of soldiers, like those Triple Nickels from over to Fort Benning and some of the plane pilots that trained at Moton Field, and I ain’t going to lie. After the service we had dinner on the ground—fried chicken, greens, cobbler, and gallons of sweet, sweet tea with lemon. Them boys was looking fine in their uniforms, cutting the fool and trying to get us girls to go to the clubs over by Phenix City. But they were boys, and Pastor Johnson was a man. He was a man with a gift of The Word and a pretty face. He had Chicago polish and confidence from being raised up north, the son of a Pullman porter. I’d be grouped in amongst them soldiers but all the time giving a look, sideways like, at Pastor Johnson, and I’m here to tell you I opened up that man’s nose. Then here I go home to Acree, down in South Georgia.
Two weeks and three days later that man—the Most Right Reverend Henry Thomas Johnson, Jr.—took a bus from Columbus to Albany, Georgia, got drove by a friend to a crossroads, and walked—I mean to tell you he walked—four miles out to where we cropped, nose wide open the whole way. I spent the next twelve years with him as his wife and helpmate, and he kept me satisfied the way a real man can. So I’m here to tell you I know when a man’s done caught the scent and I can take one look at a woman and know has she been satisfied.
These ladies of 1974 will take you down memory lane with all kinds of uproarious shenanigans, including a symbolic food fight over some cremains; a sexually frustrated housewife’s attempt to become The Total Woman, right down to the Saran Wrap; a drunkenly disrupted Fourth of July luncheon; a chicken house named “The Watergate Hotel” and populated by yard fowl named for Nixon’s henchmen: Haldeman, John Mitchell, Erlichman, et. al; and page after page of outrageous behavior. A couple of characters are rude and crude and prone to, ahem, colorful language and rather blue “fish tales,” so spare yourself if you are a prude--or be a damn good sport and bring along your smelling salts. As the yewts say, “Get over yourself.” You’ll likely live longer. That’s one theory, anyway--embrace the laughter.
Most of all, just relax and allow yourself to enjoy the craziness . . . and thank you!
Image above: partial book cover (drawn by the phenomenal cartoonist JD Crowe) for my soon-to-be-launched comic novel, The Fall of the Nixon Administration --already available (amazon).